What is contemporary jewellery?


Next month Vittoria Street Gallery hosts 20:20 Visions, an exhibition showcasing the best contemporary jewellery from the last 20 years.

20:20 Visions, a touring exhibition curated by the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ), celebrates the organisation’s 20th anniversary.

Some of the best contemporary jewellery from the last twenty years will be exhibited alongside work by the most promising upcoming contemporary jewellers.

But what is contemporary jewellery? And what makes it different to other types of jewellery design?


Rajesh Gogna ‘Architect #1’ 2013

Contemporary jewellery is an artistic practice

Contemporary jewellery, like any other form of art termed ‘contemporary,’ is very hard to define.

Unlike most movements of art and design throughout history, contemporary jewellery cannot be categorised based on appearance or the materials used. As shown by 20:20 Visions, pieces of contemporary jewellery range greatly in their appearance.

Instead, it seems more applicable to describe contemporary jewellery as a practice, or a specific approach to making jewellery.

This approach takes into consideration more than just the appearance of the final product. A whole range of other concerns, such as social context and materiality, all inform the development of a piece.

A design is the result of many factors coming together including aesthetic considerations, relevant themes and suitable materials. These concerns all contribute to the variety present in contemporary jewellery.

Contemporary jewellery and materials

Materiality is an important aspect of contemporary jewellery. No longer are jewellers confined to use precious metals and stones but are encouraged to use other materials. These materials reflect the wider concerns of the jeweller and the desired outcome.

The flexible approach to materials reflects a trend that has occurred in all branches of contemporary art. Contemporary artists, jewellers, designers, musicians and actors are no longer restricted to a certain medium but use an array of materials.


Libby Ward, ‘Made in the Middle’ exhibition photo

Contemporary jewellery and the contemporary arts

The joy of the contemporary arts is that the boundaries between the different branches of art are blurred – many of the pieces on show at Vittoria Street Gallery could as easily be part of a sculpture exhibition, a fashion show or performance as they could an exhibition of jewellery.

However, there are a few distinct characteristics that separate the work in 20:20 Visions from other forms of contemporary practice.

Though it does not need to appeal to a consumer audience, a piece of contemporary jewellery should be wearable (in some way) and take account of the human body.

Also, contemporary jewellery is part of a long history of jewellery making and has to consider its place in this lineage. Many contemporary jewellers are inspired by the history of jewellery making and design.

The development of a piece of contemporary jewellery is the result of a contemporary approach to making. It considers the appearance of a work, its material and style, in relation to broader themes and the world in which we live.

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